It is often said we live in a hyper-connected world, with people at our fingertips only a click away. However, children and young people can still feel lonely even with this many people at their disposal.
Our connections (sometimes called ‘bonds’) with people are how we feel emotionally and psychologically healthy. When we are in relationships that feel good, this can have a positive impact on our physiology too. They can literally help us feel good.
However, when we look at what constitutes a ‘good’ relationship or, in the digital space, our online friends, we are looking for a number of things that mirror the real world versions, namely: reciprocity, rapport, sharing, kindness and a feeling that we are seen and heard by the other person.
Technology helps children feel connected digitally, but friendships require being the connection and doing the connecting by using the skills listed above. Some children are more skilled at doing this than others and when they are not so good, or feel that the other person is not doing ‘their fair share’, it can result in them feeling rejected, isolated and lonely. It hurts.
What we call ‘inter-personal’ relationships can be helped by the adults around listening out for how our children speak to one another, play games together or react to things shared online. We can guide them by following what is called the Golden Thread: do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.
This means as the adult, you can help them learn to regulate their connections and conversations, and lead by example too. Children who feel lonely are hurting and need our skills as adults to help them learn what we call ‘give and take’; that friendships are worth their weight in gold, psychologically speaking, so taking care of them helps children stay connected and this feels good.